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Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett When a book of unexplainable occurences brings Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect, an eccentric old woman seeks their company, and an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. 

Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one--neighbors, parents, teachers--is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into the mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem-solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has left even the FBI baffled?

 
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett at 57th Street Books Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett at Amazon.com Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett at Barnes and Noble Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett at IndieBound

EXCERPT: Chapter One
On a warm October night in Chicago, three deliveries were made in the same neighborhood. A plump tangerine moon had just risen over Lake Michigan. The doorbell had been rung at each place, and an envelope left propped outside.

Each front door was opened on to an empty street. Each of the three people who lived in those homes lived alone, and each had a hard time falling asleep that night.

The same letter went out to all three:

Dear Friend:
I would like your help in identifying a crime that is now centuries old. This crime has wronged one of the world’s greatest painters. As those in positions of authority are not brave enough to correct this error, I have taken it upon myself to reveal the truth. I have chosen you because of your discriminating eye, your intelligence, and your ability to think outside of convention.

If you wish to help me, you will be amply rewarded for any risks you take.

You may not show this letter to anyone. Two other people in the world have received this document tonight. Although you may never meet, the three of you will work together in ways none of us can predict.

If you show this to the authorities, you will most certainly be placing your life in danger.

You will know how to respond. I congratulate you on your pursuit of justice.

The letter was not signed, and it had no return address. . . .

Behind the Scenes:
Chasing Vermeer took me five years to write, as I was still a full-time classroom teacher. I wrote it to read aloud to one of my classes, just for fun, and that is probably why it has so many wild ingredients. It also has real assignments I made up, and dialogue that came directly from my students. My pile of drafts, by the time I finished the story, was about a yard high. I rewrote the ending of the book many times, but couldn’t seem to get it right. One winter night when I was almost asleep, I suddenly knew what to say. I scribbled the passage on a piece of cardboard that was in the trash near my bedside table. Thank goodness I’d bought my son some boxer shorts from Target earlier that day… I kept my notes.

About Brett Helquist’s wonderful illustrations: he visited Hyde Park before he began working on these paintings, and took hundreds of photographs. It was his idea to hide a coded message in the illustrations. I gave him the message, but the rest is all Brett.

This is a piece of my life that found
its way into Chasing Vermeer:

my 1931 copy of Charles Fort’s Lo!

Over thirty years ago, it was being sold for less than a dollar outside the Atheneum Library on Nantucket. It was then out of print, but is now back. Surrounding it is my last classroom set of pentominoes; I’ve given the rest away during my book travels. Every year each kid in my class was given their own set in a sandwich bag, with their initials on every piece – and I always kept a few extra sets around. I still do. I now have several beautiful sets in a variety of materials and sizes, treasures that have been given to me. You never know when you might need a pentomino.
Where Chasing Vermeer takes place: Most of the action in the book happens right in Hyde Park, the Chicago neighborhood where my family and I live.  There’s also a scene downtown, in the Art Institute.  Here are a few of the real places that are in the book.